NRCS funding for sage grouse projects available in Idaho

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering funds to help ranchers improve the habitat of the Greater Sage Grouse.

The Bureau of Land Management has released its final revisions to Obama-era conservation plans for greater sage-grouse in seven western states, drawing praise from public lands ranchers and western governors and outrage from environmental groups.

Livestock groups say the 2015 amendments to rangeland management plans failed to incorporate critical input from local stakeholders and risked causing serious damage to sage grouse conservation efforts.

Western governors say the plans incorporate states’ ongoing efforts to conserve the species and balance habitat protection without stifling local economies.

Environmental groups say BLM’s revisions are a sell-out to the oil and gas industry and threaten the species and grouse habitat.

The Department of the Interior has done what the previous administration failed to do, Ethan Lane, executive director of Public Lands Council and senior director of federal lands for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in this week’s "Beltway Beef" podcast.

That was to “get consistent with the states’ ongoing management of this species to ensure that we’re getting the right kind of tools on the ground to create habitat that works for the bird and make sure the bird can thrive but in a way that doesn’t sideline activities that can coexist with them like grazing,” he said.

BLM put things in the 2015 amendments that inappropriately targeted grazing, leading to reduced grazing in sage grouse habitat where, most of the time, more grazing was needed to manage fuel loads, he said.

A case in point of why changes are needed is the Martin wildfire in Nevada this summer, which burned nearly half a million acres, he said.

“That was prime sage grouse territory, and it was an area that (grazing) had been reduced heavily because of the sage grouse plans,” he said.

Nonetheless, environmental groups are reacting to BLM’s revisions with a sort of “hair on fire” response. Instead of looking at what BLM was trying to accomplish and reading the several thousand pages of plan amendments, they just “lob a bomb,” he said.

To dismiss this as some sort of massive giveaway to oil companies is really missing the point, he said.

“The fact is we were really glad to see the (Interior) secretary engage with the individual states and ask them what they needed from this process to get right,” he said.

The Department of Interior has tried hard to engage everybody, and that always results in a decision that’s closer to the right one than just sort of taking marching orders from environmental groups, he said.

Given the response from the environmental community, “I have no doubt they will do what they always do and lob a bunch of lawsuits at these plans,” he said.

But the Interior Department likely factored that into its decision making, he said.

“I think that they probably are fairly confident that what they’ve put together is defensible, and I think they’ve done good work here,” he said.

The proposed amendments will have a 30-day protest period followed by a 60-day period for consistency review by governors.

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